INDIANAPOLIS — Christmas in May was late this year but Christmas in December is coming a little early too. Sunday, is Christmas day here in Indianapolis. While no creatures will be stirring in the big aluminum grandstands at 16th and Georgetown, not even a mouse, Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) is still on the horizon.
After four days of practice and two days of qualifying to set the 33 car field for Sunday’s 200 Lap race, what can we expect?
Past Winners Want A Win More Than Ever
It’s one thing to want to taste the milk here. It’s another to have tasted the milk here in the past and want it again. See, all the past winners that have won here, say that the jealousy is almost greater when they leave here and to have not won the race than it was when they left here before they had won the race.
Indy is a place everyone wants to win at. The desire is stronger here than anywhere else. But, once you get a win, you don’t want anyone else to bask in the ambiance as the winner for the next 12 months. You want it to be yourself.
So, for the past winners in Sunday’s field, they will be extremely jealous if they don’t win, so much so, some avoid social media for a while.
We’ve had a new, first time winner for the Indy 500 in each of the last six years. Also, since 2011, we’ve had a different winner each year here too. Going back to 2003, only Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon have won this race multiple times in that time frame.
The start of the 2018 Indy 500 – May 27, 2018, Indianapolis, Indiana USA ©2018, Porterimage USA
Will Starting Position Matter?
In the aero kit era, starting position didn’t matter at Indy. But, with this universal car that debuted in 2018, it now does. Simon Pagenaud became the first pole winner to win the ‘500 since 2009. Will Power won from third in 2018. Takuma Sato started fourth in his 2017 win. The drivers have all said this will be a track position race. I think this matters immensely.
Honda vs. Chevy
Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race the last two years. They’ve swept the front row in both 2018 and again in 2019. In 2018, they led nearly 150 of the 200 laps run. Last year, they combined to lead 155 of the 200 laps. They’ve now won two straight years too. But, Honda has the starting positions and Chevy the race pace. Who wins out?
Watch Out For The “Big 3”
Penske, Andretti and Ganassi are the top three organizations in Indy Car. While we’ve seen parity in terms of the driver front lately, we haven’t seen the same for the teams. Combined, Penske and Andretti have won each of the last six Indy 500’s. Throw Ganassi in there, and these three organizations have won 13 of the last 15 ‘500’s overall and 17 of the last 20 (since 2000).
With the points above, whom does this favor? See down low for more. Plus, the last non Penske Chevrolet driver to win at Indy was Al Unser Jr. with Galles in 1992.
The trio have won 83-percent (33 of 41) of the races run since the start of 2018 and 81 percent (59 of 74) since 2016.
Rookie Winner? Not Likely
In the past 103 years of this race, only nine times has a rookie driver won. It’s happened three times in the last 52 years and only four times in the last 91 years. So, while two rookies start in the first 3 Rows, it’s not likely they will win.
Repeat Winner? Not Likely
Pagenaud has the odds stacked against him this weekend. The last repeat winner was his teammate Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002. Helio, is the last repeat winner since Al Unser Sr. in 1970 and 1971. That’s two times this has happened in 65 years. Do you think it happens for the third time in 66 years?
More or Less Lead Changes?
Prior to the DW12 aerokit being introduced in 2012, the most lead changes in Indy 500 history was 29 in 1960. But, over the past eight years, we’ve seen at least 29 lead changes in each race.
There were 34 lead changes in both the 2012 and 2014 races, with a record 68 lead changes in 2013. In 2015, the manufacturer specific aero kits were introduced, and resulted in 37 lead changes in 2015, 54 in 2016 and 35 in 2017.
In 2018, we saw a new car that was supposed to produce even closer racing, but instead, it became further apart. While there were 30 lead changes, the majority of those were a result of pit sequences, not on the track racing. While some blamed the weather’s effect on the car, IndyCar and IMS wanted to ensure closer racing in 2019 and have made a number of adjustments to make sure the race is an exciting one. Unfortunately, we only saw 29 lead changes last year.
How many do we get on Sunday?
The drivers all say that they think it will be difficult to pass from third on back but up front could be easier which helps the lead change factor.
In terms of rain on race day, the race has been rained out just three times in 103 prior years. The first was in 1915 when the race being scheduled to run on Saturday, May 29, but was postponed a day early actually because of several recent rainstorms and was rescheduled for Monday, May 31.
See, for Sunday, all we have to get to is Lap 101 for this race to be official. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. No one wants to see half of a race.
The last time that was rain shortened was in 1986 when the race was rained out for two straight days. They didn’t actually start the race until the following Saturday, May 31.
The last time after that was in 1997 when we saw a complete postponement on race day itself, then only 15 laps run before rain settled in on Monday. The race was run to completion on Tuesday, May 27.
We have had partial postponements though. In 1967, the race was rained out after 18 laps and finished the next day. In 1973, the race was started on a Monday but after a lengthy delay for a first lap crash, it was postponed until the next day. Then, on the Tuesday portion, rain started falling on the second pace lap, delaying the race to Wednesday. That race was rain shortened as rain fell again on that day too.
Speaking of rain shortened races, we’ve only see that happen seven times, the last being in 2007 after 166 laps. Between that and 180 laps run before severe weather came through here in 2004, those are the only two instances in the last 43 years.
In the 70’s, 1973 (133 laps), 1975 (174 laps) and 1976 (102 laps) were shortened for rain. Prior to that, it was 1926 (160 Laps) and 1950 (138 Laps) that were rain shortened races.
Helio Castroneves’ Drive For 4
Nothing against Michael Schumacher (Formula One) or Jeff Gordon (NASCAR), but their five wins each at IMS will never even compare to AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr’s four Indy 500 wins! While five wins anywhere is impressive, four Indy 500 wins is legendary!
Only three drivers in history have won the famed race four times, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, but for the past nine years, three-time winner Helio Castroneves has been knocking on the door.
Over the past 10 years, Castroneves has had six top 10 finishes, two of which were second place finishes. He almost joined the four-time club in both 2014 and 2017, just missing the mark by 0.060 seconds and 0.2011 seconds, respectively. Ouch.
Castroneves will return this year in hopes of winning a fourth Borg Warner Trophy.
Chip Ganassi Racing Eyeing 1st Indy 500 Triumph In Last 8 Years
Chip Ganassi Racing is arguably one of the best Indy Car teams in the series today. They hold 112 wins, 11 series titles and four Indianapolis 500 victories. While the team has enjoyed much success, they would really enjoy another Indy 500 win, as their last one was back in 2012.
This year, Chip Ganassi Racing will have three drivers vying for the top spot in victory lane. The first is veteran Scott Dixon, who has had 10 top 10 finishes over the past 14 years, one of which being his 2008 victory! Scott Dixon’s 2020 teammates are both second year drivers in Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson.
Rosenqvist, will drive the #10 car, which previously belonged to two-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti and one-time winner Tony Kanaan.
It will be interesting to see if either of these Chip Ganassi Racing drivers can bring home the Borg Warner Trophy for their beloved team.